Ride Report: Flanders Gravel, already a gravel classic
Gravel Union On
29 October 2021
What do you get when you put ex-pro rider and gravel fanatic Laurens ten Dam and the organisers from Flanders Classics in one room? You get Flanders Gravel. An event that put together the best of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) spring classic in the form of cobbled climbs and tiny backroads, with local gravel, dirt and unknown climbs too rough for road bikes to ride.
If you mention names like the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg, many spring classics lovers’ heads will turn, just by hearing the sound of their names. These are the places where famous riders like Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara earned their victories (and forged their reputations) in the Tour of Flanders. For a couple of weeks each spring, these hills fill themselves with the best cyclists in the world and many thousands of fans who head there to cheer the riders on. The rest of the year, peace and quiet rules these lands. Or at least they did until the arrival of Flanders Gravel anyway.
For Erwin, the drive up to Flemish Ardennes was a familiar one. Living not too far away in The Netherlands, he had visited the area many times before. If it was not for gravel riding, the spring classics would have definitely been his biggest passion in cycling. “There is a kind of magic to the place. Those cobbles are terrible to ride on with your road bike and despite the fact that there’s no really big climbs, the terrain will kill you slowly during the day. This is exactly what makes rides like the Tour of Flanders so special.” he said.
Having ridden the cobbles on his road bike many times before, Erwin was especially curious what it would be like riding them on his gravel bike. “At first it felt like I was cheating. These cobbles should be ridden on a road race bike, maxing out on the suffering. As the kilometers flew by however, my legs were starting to burn and Flanders once again showed how tough its riding actually is. Truth be told, I was glad to be on my gravel bike instead of my road race bike”. When asked about the combination of riding cobbles and gravel in one ride, he was pretty clear. “The ride combines my two biggest passions in cycling. To be able to go to this place and ride both cobbles and get lost on local trails and gravel roads, was the best thing I’ve done on a bike in a long time. The route builders really did a great job on creating an ever-changing route that was both tough, but really beautiful to ride”.
Whereas Erwin might live close by, for Henna, who lives in Finland, riding Flanders Gravel was not only her first time riding the event, it was also her first time riding in the Flanders region. “Flanders gravel was my first gravel event outside of the Nordics. It was super cool to experience it in a place like Flanders that has a long cycling history, where people live and breathe cycling. It created a unique atmosphere and surroundings for an event like this. Flanders Gravel also proved that passion for gravel riding brings like-minded people together from all over the world and that’s the best part of these events”, she said.
Without previous experience from Flanders, Henna had only heard stories of the famous cobbles and punchy climbs. “The climbs were way punchier than I expected and there were more than enough of them. I never thought Belgium would have been this hilly, but it also reminded me a lot about riding back home in Finland. There weren’t any big climbs, but there were constant rolling hills that made sure you felt your legs at the end of the ride”.
When asking Henna about the route, it didn’t take long for her to name her favourite parts. “I truly enjoyed the diverse route the route builders had created. But if I needed to pick two favourites, it was definitely the more technical downhill sections on singletrack and the fast downhills with cobbles. Blasting down these hills was the best possible reward after those punchy climbs. All in all, I must say cobbles and gravel make a fun combo”.
One thing both Henna and Erwin agreed on was the mandatory afterparty being “on point”. Obviously, a gravel event without a good afterparty isn’t really complete. Being able to finish your ride in style with a beer and burger by the fire, listening to some live tunes, sharing stories, is an important part of any great gravel ride. The organisers of Flanders Gravel understood exactly that. From start to finish the ride was well thought through, from the campsite to the morning coffee, to the technical support from Shimano, to the food points during the ride, to the beer handed out to you on top of the last climb – they absolutely nailed it.
It was all these things, combined with the magical place we rode through in that made Flanders Gravel already a real gravel “classic”. It’s one you should definitely be on the lookout for when planning your new gravel season.
The next edition of Flanders Gravel is planned for July 2022.